Maybe Juan Soto was drained from his first-round victory in Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Coors Field, when he vanquished the favored Shohei Ohtani of the Angels in a three-swing swing-off to advance to the semifinals against the Mets’ Pete Alonso.
Perhaps his hand-selected pitcher, Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long, tired as the night went along, failing to deliver enough pitches to Soto’s up-and-in happy zone. At one point in the opening round, teammates Max Scherzer and Trea Turner were giving Long a pep talk during a time out.
Could the thin Denver air have taken a mile-high bite out of Soto’s endurance in a demanding exhibition of home run prowess?
Soto’s night in the Home Run Derby ended one step short of the finals when Alonso clobbered 16 longballs in the semifinals on 22 pitches from Mets bench coach Dave Jauss to defeat the Nationals slugger 16-15.
After the grueling display of powerful swings - which included a derby-record 520-foot poke into the third deck of the right field stands at Coors Field in the opening round - Soto embraced Alonso and wished him luck in the finals against the Orioles’ Trey Mancini.
“Go get him, man,” Soto told the Mets masher. “Go get him.”
A late addition to the Home Run Derby field who was seeded eighth against the top-seeded Ohtani in the opening round, Soto made the most of his star turn before Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic.
Soto took Ohtani to the derby’s version of overtime - a one-minute rapid-fire swingfest after they had tied at 22 in the opening round plus bonus time. After an additional minute, both sluggers had six more blasts setting the stage for a three-swing swing-off, where the hitter with more homers in three swings would advance.
Soto went first and - after being challenged by Long’s offerings low in the middle of the zone for much of the night - made the most of his trio of hacks. His first swing produced a moonshot to right field. On his second cut, Soto reached the third deck in right field with a 506-foot poke. On his final swing, Soto went deep to center field with a 109 mph exit velocity.
Ohtani got a chance to match Soto’s blasts, but his first swing produced a grounder that ended the epic battle.
“It feels great,” Soto said in an ESPN interview. ” ... But there’s a long way to go.”
In the semifinals, Soto faced Alonso, the 2019 Home Run Derby champion who dispatched the Royals’ Salvador Pérez in the first round by a 35-28 margin. If the 89-degree temps wore Alonso down, he didn’t show it in the semifinals, where he danced before settling into the batter’s box and at one point took a timeout to implore the crowd to cheer louder for him.
Soto, who was bidding to join 2018 Home Run Derby champ Bryce Harper as the lone Nats to prevail in the competition, hit 11 homers in the regulation three-minute round, then four more in the bonus time for a total of 15. He went mostly opposite field after spreading longballs all around the Coors Field outfield in the opening round.
But Alonso was up to the task, connecting on 16 of his 22 semifinal swings to send Soto out of the derby. Alonso won the final, outhomering Mancini 23-22, to claim his second straight Home Run Derby crown.